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updated 5/10/2005 12:53:12 PM ET 2005-05-10T16:53:12

The curtain is officially lifted on Xbox's next-generation video game console Thursday, but there have been plenty of peeks already on the Internet.

The sleek new console is reportedly called the Xbox 360 and is a slimmer, far more stylish version of the existing Microsoft game console. Purported pictures of the new console have surfaced on a variety of Web sites in recent days, including engadget.com, eurogamer.net, Kotaku.com and Teamxbox.com.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Unlike the horizontal bulky black-and-green original Xbox, launched in November 2001, the new model is shown standing vertically like a slim CPU, its sides slightly concave.

The pictures show a large green-rimmed button, which looks like the start button, situated on the thin front of the console below the disc tray.

Kotaku says the console can also sit horizontally, like the PlayStation 2, and that the front of the console can be customized with faceplates. The Web site also says that the new console will feature wireless controllers.

Engadget.com says its pictures — which show a wireless controller, headset and what looks like a peripheral camera — came from last week's taping in Los Angels of the MTV special unveiling the console.

That special, hosted by actor Elijah Wood and featuring the Las Vegas band the Killers, is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. EDT Thursday in the U.S.

The show and accompanying party drew the likes of skateboarder Tony Hawk, actors Scarlet Johansson, Alyssa Milano, Rachel Bilson, Wilmer Valderrama, Efren Ramirez and such musicians as Limp Bizkit, rapper Lil John, Poison's C.C. DeVille, No Doubt's Tony Kanal and Ryan Cabrera, according to MTV's website.

Usually the big three — Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo — reserve their unveilings for the influential annual trade show E3, which starts next week in Los Angeles. Last year, for example, Sony and Nintendo used their pre-show news conferences to show off their new handheld systems — Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS.

This year, however, Sony moved its May 16 pre-show news conference ahead of Microsoft's. The technology giant has bypassed the E3 briefing in favor of its own TV show — MTV Presents: The Next Generation Xbox Unveiled.

"It's traditional in our industry that when someone had a new product to reveal they do that at E3," said Jason Anderson, Xbox Canada's group marketing manager.

"For us, E3's a (closed) trade show, and the trade is phenomenally important to us but at the same time, in the next generation, the gamer is what's most critical to the equation.

"And that's why we felt it was important to change the game. And instead of unveiling our product at E3, we're going to unveil it on CTV here in Canada and we'll do that a week before E3 and let gamers see this thing first, take it in first and see what the next generation of gaming is really going to be."

Anderson declined comment on the new Xbox console ahead of the official unveiling.

The Hollywood treatment seems fitting for an industry that has seem the lines between gaming, film and music blur in recent years. Not to mention an industry whose sales — counting video game hardware, software and accessories — totaled $10 billion in the U.S. The NPD Group, which tracks the industry, said first-quarter U.S. sales this year were $2.2 billion, up 23 percent from the same period a year ago.

Sony and Nintendo plan their own next-generation consoles, but it appears both will come out next year after Microsoft — which reportedly is looking to gets its console to market this holiday season.

Nintendo's console is code-named Revolution.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has said the new Xbox — whose code name was Xenon during production — will be more of a digital entertainment hub than its predecessor, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.

Gates told the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in Seattle that the new console will allow users to access music and photos, and feature improved communication tools for online play.

Xbox was last out of the console gate the last time but has sold more than 20 million units worldwide. Sony is the industry leader, with a worldwide installed base in excess of 80 million units.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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